“I DID IT TO EXPOSE R.T.E. DIRTY TRICKS!” –

12 December 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

PETER HUGHES

“This is the type of client I am. I love a challenge and what motivates me is to catch people out at their dirty tricks, and that is what I have achieved.

“The publicity they gave me will be damning – but I sincerely hope people will believe my side of the story and RTE will be redfaced about the whole thing.”

This was part of the response given by Monaghan Co Councillor Hugh McElvaney to the storm of predominantly adverse media attention he has been subjected to in the aftermath of Monday night’s RTE Investigates documentary, in which he was secretly filmed telling an undercover reporter that he wanted to receive financial payment to assist a wind farm investment company with planning issues.

Colr McElvaney told The Northern Standard in an extensive exclusive interview yesterday morning that he was aware from the outset that there was something suspicious or bogus about the approach made to him. He claimed that having discerned the true nature of what was happening he had played along with the investigative journalistic exercise in order to expose what he described as “the dirty tricks” of RTE, and had effectively acted out the role of a councillor “on the take” in order to expose what he considered an attack on his character and good name, something he asserted could have been influenced by what he has termed “the dark forces of politics”.

(Colr McElvaney recently resigned from the Fine Gael party on the basis of what he considered inadequate Government responses to concerns raised by the Co Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee in relation to the EirGrid North-South electricity interconnector project).

Rather than regarding his involvement in the programme and what he freely admitted to be the “damning publicity” that has ensued as a threat to his future political career, he made it clear that he regards the manner in which he addressed the matter as a principled stance, and a warning to other local politicians, against “dirty tricks” and “gutter-type journalism”.

He prefaced our discussion of the controversy proper by apologising for the impact the fall-out from the programme had visited upon his family, neighbours and loyal customers of the businesses to which he was attached. “I ask them all for their patience and understanding in the short term,” he stated.

“On the face of it, I am Public Enemy No 1, but I would ask everyone to understand that I have done this to achieve what I set out to do, to show RTE for what they are – they have been reduced to gutter-type journalism uncaring of the consequences of its actions on others. My aim was also to bring the issue of overhead pylons in Co Monaghan to such a level of national importance that will ensure that no pylons will ever be erected in our county.”

Recalling the series of events which led to Monday night’s broadcast, Colr McElvaney said that when he received the first phone call from Nina Carlsson, the purported representative of a windfall investment company seeking his assistance with planning issues, he was suspicious. The first of what were a total of three telephone conversations, extracts from which were broadcast in the documentary, took place on October 23.

“The suggestion that politicians would wish to become involved with investors or developers struck me as kind of crazy after all that had gone on with the Mahon Tribunal,” the Independent councillor told our reporter.

When we questioned the wisdom of some of the comments Colr McElvaney had made to the contact person, he responded: “I just decided to take them on at their own game. That is the type of individual I am. I would play them at their own dirty tricks, and the best way to do this was to indicate that I was interested in cash before I was prepared to speak to them. I was going to take the piss, lead them up the garden path.”

Colr McElvaney said he was conscious of the likelihood that these conversations were being recorded. Asked why he himself didn’t opt to record the phone discussions for his own protection, he responded: “I didn’t need to keep a record of it – they were recording it and I knew they would eventually have to furnish me with the transcripts.”

He confirmed that he had subsequently received transcripts of extracts from the telephone conversations from RTE.

The phone discussions built up to an eventual meeting between Colr McElvaney and Nina Carlsson, which took place in the Hillgrove Hotel on November 7.

He said he decided to go ahead with the interview even though by this stage he was convinced that “it was all very suspicious”, especially as the subject of wind farms, he believed, was one that he would be well known as being inimical too, given his widely publicised stance on the EirGrid interconnector issue.

“They were really out to do me,” he stated.

Asked why anyone would want to “do” him, and if his comments at the time of his FG resignation about “the dark forces of politics” had significance in this context, Colr McElvaney replied: “I don’t know – that is for speculation. Was there a link?”

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(When we revisited his “dark forces” remark later in the interview, Colr McElvaney said he would speak to this newspaper subsequently about his views in this regard).

The Independent councillor accepted that he hadn’t carried out any checks on the background of the supposed wind farm investment company, entitled Vinst Opportunities, to ascertain if it was genuine. However, an Internet search for ‘Nina Carlsson’ which showed pictures of a model “added to my suspicion”.

On the morning of his meeting with Nina on November 7, Colr McElvaney received a number of text messages from her, one of which changed the venue for their discussion from the Four Seasons Hotel to the Hillgrove Hotel, something which Colr McElvaney says he protested strongly about in a phone call, the transcript of which he has not received from RTE. He suggested to our reporter that technical considerations relating to the secret recording of the subsequent interview might have been the prompt for the late change of venue.

“I PUT PLENTY OF JUICE IN”

Colr McElvaney said he had the impression that “something was not right about this” when going into the interview. Asked why, in light of his reservations, he had indulged in his subsequent comments and behaviour, he responded: “That is why I exaggerated. I put plenty of juice in to keep her interest and to give her the impression that I would be interested in money, not just from the point of view that I would be a front man for her company.”

When we asked if he felt the footage broadcast from the interview had been in any way redacted to his disadvantage, Colr McElvaney said that what was shown in the documentary would be “a fair representation” of what took place.

“It was very damning to me and I knew when I was doing it that it could be damning but I was prepared to accept the consequences in order to show them up,” he stated.

He described what viewers saw as “a performance – I said to some of the media subsequently that the Abbey Theatre would be looking for me!”

Asked why he had not taken the opportunity at the conclusion of the interview to effectively blow RTE’s cover and make clear that he knew what was happening was a set-up, he responded: “I didn’t do it because there probably would have been no show. You don’t think it would have broadcast? It would have blown the whole thing out of the water.”

Colr McElvaney said that he had never encountered this sort of approach by a company before in his career as a local politician, although he had read of similar situations in which other local public representatives had become involved.

He told us that, on November 17, he received a letter from RTE which was delivered by hand to him at his home in Corcaghan. He thought the circumstances of the delivery were in themselves unusual – the letter was handed to him not by a courier but by a man in a car who would only identify himself by the Christian name “John” and who only responded to a number of questions put to him by replying, “It’s in the envelope.” Colr McElvaney said the man would not tell him on whose behalf he was acting. He took the number of the man’s car before he departed.

Colr McElvaney also told us that on November 19 he notified the Gardaí about what he described as the “scam” he had been subjected to. He spoke in Carrickmacross to a senior Garda officer, who told him that he would take a note of the matter.

The letter Colr McElvaney was handed on November 17 was from Conor Ryan, journalist with RTE’s Investigations Unit. It made him aware of the recordings that had been made, stating that: “The subject matter of what was discussed between you and Ms Carlsson is clearly in the public interest, concerning as it does the conduct of elected public representatives and the specific and statutory ethical requirements that pertain to the manner in which local authority business is carried out by councillors.”

It sought a response to a request for an interview by 17.00 on Friday, November 20, or alternatively a written response, so this might be incorporated into the programme to be broadcast subsequently.

Colr McElvaney furnished this newspaper with a copy of his email response to this request, which was sent on Friday, November 20 at 4.10 pm:

“Dear Mr Ryan,

Thank you for our letter of the 12th November which I received on the 17th [a little later than I expected].

“I will certainly be responding to the issues to which you refer and suggest that it is in your interests that this response is included in your programme.

“To enable me do so, please furnish me with a full written transcript of each of my telephone conversations and my meeting with Ms “Carlsson” as well as a full copy of all recordings of each of our conversations.”

Colr McElvaney says that no automatic reply was received to this email. He sent another email message to Conor Ryan on Friday, December 4 at 9.25 am in which he repeated his request for transcripts to facilitate a full response, and said of the lack of a reply to his initial email: “That doesn’t seem to me to be good journalism.”

Following a standard automatic reply to his second email, an email was sent to Colr McElvaney at 10.26 am from the RTE Solicitors’ Office. This stated that a response to Colr McElvaney’s initial email had been sent on November 20 by Paul Maguire, Editor of the RTE Investigations Unit (Colr McElvaney told us that he did not receive this message and that there is no computer record of its receipt).

The solicitor’s letter offered to facilitate an opportunity for Colr McElvaney to come to RTE and listen to the audio recordings of the conversations between himself and Nina Carlsson, and view video footage and transcripts. It required a response by no later than 13.00.

Colr McElvaney told us that it was impossible for him to be at the RTE Studios in such a tight timescale. “For practical reasons it was impossible, and another reason I didn’t go to Montrose or try to get to Montrose was, ‘Would there be more secret cameras on me?’”

He added that at this stage he believed the “scene was already set” as an extract from one of his conversations with Ms Carlsson had been used on the trailer for the RTE Investigates documentary to be screened the following Monday: “My voice was used without my permission to promote their programme.”

DIDN’T INFLUENCE DECISION TO RESIGN

The Independent councillor categorically denied that the knowledge that he would be involved in the RTE programme in any way influenced his decision to resign from the FG party.

“That had nothing to do with it,” he insisted. “All of this was only in its early stages when I first indicated at a public meeting on the EirGrid issue in Aughnamullen on October 23 that I was contemplating resignation were certain responses not received from the Taoiseach and the Government. My decision to resign from FG was long before Nina Carlsson!”

Colr McElvaney said that he had been engaged in no correspondence with RTE since the documentary was screened. He had been approached by a number of RTE radio programmes for interview – among them those helmed by Joe Duffy, Claire Byrne, Mary Wilson and Sean O’Rourke – but had declined to participate, although he had been interviewed on Newstalk and Northern Sound.

The Independent Co Councillor said he had experienced “a lot of stress” since the programme aired.

“The hate emails and the hate texts have been very upsetting, but I hope the interview that I am now giving will deal with all that,” he told our reporter.

“This has been possibly the greatest piss-pull in the history of the State, and RTE were found out in their dirty tricks. They were trying to assassinate my character and break a man by threatening his political career and taking away his reputation and good name.

“The State broadcaster should be involved in more positive things in our county, such as showing our tourism attractions like Lough Muckno, Annaghmakerrig and Bragan. They should be emphasising something positive for our county rather than trying to catch good people out.”

Colr McElvaney said he had also received a number of positive emails and messages of support, some stating: ‘Well done Hughie, you have caught them all out!’ He also said that he was aware of some of the social media satire in which his contribution to the programme had featured.

When we put it to him that anyone viewing the programme at face value would have gone away with a very negative impression of him, he responded: “I can understand that they would get a bad impression of me. That was the chance I took. It was a huge risk but I was prepared to go through with it to show RTE for what they are.”

HAD COMPLIED WITH DECLARATION REQUIREMENTS

Colr McElvaney rejected claims made during the programme that he had not complied with the requirement on elected local authority members to fully declare their interests.

Furnishing us with photocopies of the relevant documentation, Colr McElvaney said that he was not a land dealer and developer and had left blank the sections of the documentation that dealt with such matters. He pointed out that he had indicated his activities as a publican and his involvement in a local waste company.

“RTE were giving the impression that I was a real baddie, but I have made all the necessary declarations,” he insisted.

Asked how his colleagues on Monaghan Co Council had reacted to Monday night’s broadcast, he told us: “My colleagues were bewildered that I would carry out such a stupid exercise and put myself in such a silly position, but I am hoping that through this interview all that will be cleared up. I have no doubt that it will.”

Would he act differently if he could turn back the clock?

“No, not on this occasion – but I wouldn’t do it again. But I am still happy and content that I have done it. RTE tried to portray me in the worst possible light as a public representative, and I did this as a warning for others to beware of their dirty, hidden tricks.”

The veteran councillor did not accept at all that the broadcast jeopardised his political future.

“This will have no implications for my political future once it is cleared up and everyone realises where I am coming from. If I did not have the evidence to show you that this was the greatest piss-take of all times I would be in trouble, I would have no choice but to resign. There were no bribes paid and there was no corruption.”

When we suggested that being seen to solicit money for his services as a councillor, regardless of what his motivations were, was highly damaging, Colr McElvaney responded: “That does not constitute corruption in my case because it was only a piss-pull or a case of pulling someone’s leg. I was of the opinion that any actual offer or exchange of money was never going to happen – but weren’t RTE so stupid not to fill a brown envelope with rubbish and pass it on to me? I would have hit her across the snout with it and would probably have been arrested for assault. That would have been the climax had they carried out their dirty trick to perfection but, while they missed their chance, there probably would have been no show.”

He added: “I am honest and open and people know exactly where I stand in relation to giving them good representation.”

He also commented: “The media circus may have left Corcaghan, but they have left one item behind and it was a clown. I might be seen by some as a pure clown, but I was prepared to do what I did and carried it out 100% to let the State broadcaster be seen for what they are.”

Colr McElvaney said he had confided what he was doing in family members and some trusted political colleagues. “Their advice to me was to have nothing to do with RTE,” he stated.

“They would have questioned the wisdom of what I was doing for my own sake, but I was prepared to go through with it to show them [RTE] up. I didn’t realise I was going to be lumped in with other councillors who seem to be in bother. The impression RTE gave on the programme was that they were all in the same boat.”

MONAGHAN CO COUNCIL

Colr McElvaney also addressed the issue of the RTE broadcast some hours prior to it, during the December meeting of Monaghan Co Council which was held on Monday at the Carrickmacross Civic Offices.

Colr McElvaney stated to the meeting that the media seemed to be getting mixed up in relation to his resignation from FG, which was not as a result of the “dirty tricks” by an RTE investigative programme but related to the stance he had taken on the issue of the EirGrid interconnector and overhead powerlines.

“I want to make it clear that I had indicated my resignation from the party before the dirty tricks brigade of RTE arrived in Co Monaghan,” the Independent councillor stated.

What he had done in relation to the programme, he added, was an honourable thing to do on the part of politics generally and public representatives, who wanted to watch people who were stalking them like RTE and people out to assassinate their character. He had turned the dirty tricks on themselves.

“Of course, who has helped to set me up, if I was set up, is another question that has to be asked. Was it the dark forces of politics I mentioned on the night of my resignation in Castleblayney? All those things will have to be investigated.”

He advised the Council members to “fasten their seat belts” in relation to the programme that was to be broadcast later.

Colr McElvaney also indicated that he was leaving the meeting but intended to return to attend the Christmas dinner being hosted following it by Cathaoirleach Noel Keelan although, he added, “I do not want to be late for the Colr McElvaney Show at 9.30 on RTE.”

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